In the last two articles we discussed why vocabulary is not any less important than grammar. In this article I am going to share some common myths about learning and teaching foreign language vocabulary that most of language teachers and learners believe. These myths were listed and debunked by eminent language reseacher Keith S. Folse in his 2004 article – ‘Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary’. I am listing them briefly as it’s important for us know that so many common assumptions that most of us have about vocabulary are nothing but myths according to research.
8 Myths about Foreign Language Vocabulary
- MYTH I – Vocabulary is not as important in learning a foreign language as Grammar or other areas. This is one of the most common myths and we have already discussed it in the first article of this series.
- MYTH II – It is not good to use list of words when learning vocabulary. Using more communicative methods and vocabulary guides with detail explanations are, without any doubt, good methods but traditional Word-Meaning lists are not bad either. Recent research has shown that some learners learn better with simple word lists with minimum information about words.
- MYTH III – Vocabulary should be presented in Semantic Way. You must have seen vocabulary lists like ‘Days of the Week’, ‘Animals’, ‘Family Members’ in many language books. It’s a common assumption that people learn faster through this kind of semantic lists. But the research findings are just opposite. Instead words should be arranged in thematic sets. For example, word ‘Sunday, Weekend, Party, Friends’ etc. are most likely to be used together than ‘Sunday, Wednesday and Friday’.
- MYTH IV – The use of translations is a poor way to learn new vocabulary. Actually they are not. Recently there has been too much focus on the use of the target language itself when learning grammar or vocabulary but most of vocabulary research shows that translation is still a good method to learn a language. Many learners learn vocabulary faster and better when provided with the meaning in their mother tongues.
- MYTH V – Guessing Words from context is as productive for foreign language learners as it is for first language learners. The process of learning a foreign language is much different from that of learning the first language. To guess the meaning from context one must have a large vocabulary which most of foreign language learners don’t. So guessing the meaning of a word can be helpful in your mother tongue or a language you are quite proficient in but not in a language you have just started to learn. Using a dictionary can be a better way to learn vocabulary.
- MYTH VI – Foreign Language learners should have a monolingual dictionary. This is one of the recent trends in foreign language learning. In contrast to this and the previous assumption the research shows that learners who use a dictionary learn more vocabulary than those who rely on guessing from context. Also, the learners who use a bilingual dictionary actually remember vocabulary better than those using a monolingual dictionary.
- MYTH VII – The best vocabulary learners make use of only one or two effective specific vocabulary learning strategies. There is no ‘Best’ vocabulary learning strategy. What research shows is that good learners use a wide variety of vocabulary learning strategies and generally develop their own individual strategy that works best for their needs and personalities.
- MYTH VIII – Vocabulary is sufficiently covered enough in our curricula and courses. The truth is that most of the language curricula and courses put the focus on grammar, and vocabulary is taught only as needed. But what is interesting is the fact that most asked questions by students in the language classes are not about grammar but about vocabulary. This is an issue that all foreign language learners and teachers need to think about.
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